- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 29, 2004

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) — A tanker carrying 3.5 million gallons of industrial ethanol exploded and sank about 50 miles off the Virginia coast yesterday, the Coast Guard said. At least three persons died, and rescue crews were searching for most of the ship’s 27 crew members.

Two persons died among the eight transported by helicopter to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, spokeswoman Vicky Gray said. The other six men were being evaluated, she said.

Toni Keiser, a spokesman for Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin, Md., said a dead man from the tanker was brought to the hospital, and that two rescue divers were treated and released there for minor injuries.

The Bow Mariner, a 570-foot tanker flying a Singapore flag, made an emergency call just after 6 p.m., saying there had been an explosion on board, said Petty Officer Stacey Pardini of the Coast Guard Atlantic area in Portsmouth.

The explosion occurred about 50 miles east of Chincoteague, Va., after a fire started on the deck of the ship, said Lt. Chris Shaffer of Ocean City Emergency Services.

“When the rescue divers got on the scene, the fuel tanker was on fire, sinking, and there was people in the water,” Lt. Shaffer said. He added that the six survivors rescued were in critical condition.

Three helicopters, three Coast Guard boats and a C-130 plane were searching for survivors.

Coast Guard Senior Chief John Moss said late last night that nine crew members were accounted for, including seven survivors. One survivor was picked up by a commercial fishing boat, he said.

“We have no indication that this was anything other than an accident at this point,” Chief Moss said, adding that he didn’t know what caused the explosion.

Chief Moss said the Coast Guard did not know how much of the ethanol was released.

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